Structural aspects of religion


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Sociology of religion

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Structural aspects of religion

  1. 1. Structural Aspects of ReligionThe structure of religion includes theologies, creeds, practices, rituals, sects andsymbols.1. Theologies and Creeds:Theology is the systematic explanation which religious leaders work out to showman’s relation to his God and to the Universe. Almost all religions have their bodiesof ideas, beliefs, doctrines, dogmas, articles of faith, ideals and ideologies. Thesethings are systematized and rationalised in the form of theologies and creeds.Often this includes some account of the origin of the world, and of man, like thestories of Creation in the Bible. The Hindu concept of the Trinity, that is, Goddescribed in three forms-Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Shiva, theDestroyer, explains the creation, the preservation and the destruction of the world.Theology represents the creed, or body of beliefs and doctrines of the Church or theTemple. The written words become the sacred scriptures.2. Ceremony and Ritual:Ceremony or ritual is a standardised and accepted action directed towards somespecific end. Ritual refers to “symbolic actions concerning the sacred.” Every religionhas its own practices and techniques or rituals and ceremonies in order tocommunicate with the supernatural. Ritual expresses awe and reverence, obedienceand homage to the God.Sacrifices, sacred music, drama, dances, hymns, prayers, feasting, fasting, readingscriptures, writing, festivals, etc. represent various forms of rituals. They are found inall religions but in different ways.These bring emotional unity among people and secure for them some kind ofsecurity. These rituals are relatively simple in some religions but complex andelaborate in some others. However, rituals and ceremonies are not confined toreligion alone.3. Symbolism:“Throughout religion symbolism is important. Symbols are substitutes for orrepresentation of objects or situations. They may be verbal or tangible. A religioussymbol enables an individual to identify himself with his fellow-beings. It thuspromotes a sense of social solidarity. 1
  2. 2. A symbol may often come to represent not the particular object or situation to whichit was originally attached, but the entire group and its culture. For example, the crossstands for Christianity, the Crescent for Islam, the Swasthik for Hinduism. Normallythese symbols are emotion-charged.4. Religious Codes:‘Religious Code’ refers to a body of rules prescribed by a particular religion for itsfollowers to observe and follow. The code prescribes desirable conduct andprescribes undesirable behaviour.The desirable behaviour brings rewards while the undesirable one bringspunishment to the individual. In religious terminology there is a close connectionbetween one’s behaviour and the probability of one’s attaining Heaven or going toHell after one’s death.The religious code defines the way in which one has to maintain one’s relation withthe Supernatural and also with the fellow-beings. Buddhism thus places emphasis on“Ashta Marg (Eight-Fold Path), Jainism on “Triratnas” (Three- Jewelled Path), Islamon “Shariat” (Muslim Personal Law), Hinduism on “Manu Smriti”, Christianity on ‘Tencommandments’ and so on.5. Sects:A sect is a body of believers with similar religious attitudes and interests. The groupof believers may hold a common body of beliefs, values and objectives. Certainpersons, often only a few in the beginning, begin to disagree about more or lessimportant points in the main ceremonials and doctrine of the parent organisation.In course of time, they may go out of the organised Church, or they may be expelledby the Church itself. Now they formulate their own creed, their own official hierarchy,and take on a distinctive name and become a new “denomination”. Today’s sect isquite likely to become tomorrow’s Church.In time, a sect makes its peace with the wider society and becomes a Church itself.Later, a new generation of people may break away from it and form another sect.Christianity has two main sects like Catholicism, and Protestantism and several othersmaller sects like Puritanism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, etc.Similarly, Buddhism has Mahayanism and Hinayanism, Jainism has theSvetambaras and the Digambaras, Islam has the Sunnis and the Shias; Hinduism 2
  3. 3. has the sects like Shaivites, the Vaishnavites and the Shaktheyas oh the one hand;and David, Advaita and the Vishishtadvaita on the other.6. Festivals:Every religion has its own festivals. A religious festival is a kind of social get-together wherein people observe some rituals collectively. It may consist of prayers,processions, feasting or fasting, chanting of hymns and singing devotional songs,etc. Festivals reaffirm the faith and fidelity of the people into the principles andpractices of religion. Festivals promote emotional integration and social harmony.A common feature of the festival is that people clean their homes, wear ceremonialdresses and ornaments. Feasts and parties are often arranged and there is an ex-change of greetings, sweets and presents.Some popular festivals of the Hindus are-Yugadi, Sankranthi, Navaratri, VijayaDashami, Ramanavami, Krishna Jayanthi, Deepavali, Ganesh Chaturthi, NagaPanchami, Gauri Pooja, Rishi-Panchami, Guru-Purnima, Rakshabandhan, Shivaratriand Holi.7. Sacred Literature:The theological explanation of a religion when it takes the written form becomes thesacred literature. In other words, the sacred scriptures of a religion represent itssacred literature.Every religion has its own sacred literature. The essential principles, and theologicalexplanations of a religion, in general, are incorporated in its sacred literature. Thisliterature has a great survival value.The Vedas, or ‘Srutis’, Upanishads or ‘Smritis’, Bhagavad Gita and the Epic are thesacred scriptures of Hindqism. ‘Bible’ is the main religious authority on Christianityand similarly, ‘Quran’ on Islam;’ Tripitakas’—(Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka andAbhidhamma Pitaka) on Buddhism; “Agama Siddhanta” on Jainism; ‘Jend Avesta’ onZoroastrianism; The Old Testament of the Jewish Bible” and ‘Talmud’ on Judaismand so on.8. Myth:Myth refers to “an ancient traditional story of Gods or heroes, especially, the oneoffering an explanation of some fact or phenomenon”—(Chamber’s Dictionary). Ithas been said that myth “is primitive philosophy, the simplest presentational form ofthought, a series of attempts to understand the world, to explain life and death, fate 3
  4. 4. and nature, gods and cults”-(E.Bethe). As Malinowski says myths are “statements ofreality, products of a living faith, intimately connected with word and deed.”Myth is also a complex kind of human assertion. It is a dramatic assertion, not simplya rational statement. It is a dramatic assertion in which the thoughts and feelings,attitudes and sentiments, are involved. It is the emotion-laden assertion of man’splace in a world that is meaningful to him, and of his solidarity with it.It makes past and future immediately present; it expresses man’s solidarity with hisworld, and reasserts that solidarity in the face of human doubt. “Through it (Myth)men are related to their environment, to their ancestors, to their descendants, to thebeyond which is the ground of all existence, to what is permanent beyond allflux.”(Thomas. F. O ‘Dea).9. Mysticism:‘Mysticism’ refers to the habit or tendency of religious thought and feeling of thosewho seek direct communion with God or the divine. In mysticism, religious life forsome people becomes “transformed into a purely personal and inward experience”.Hence, a ‘Mystic’ is one who seeks or attains direct relationship with the God inelevated religious feeling or ecstacy. He seeks to rise above all forms of the world-both those of the natural and societal environment and those of formalised cult aswell.The mystic response is found in all the world religions; in Christianity, Buddhism,Hinduism, Judaism and even in Islam. Mysticism attracts varied types of people, butespecially the intellectual and cultured groups. It is often an expression of protest ina subtle way. It expresses a desire to break out of established forms of worship andoften of ideas.Like the protest response, however, it can also be reincorporated into the Church. Itcontributes considerable enrichment to their subjective religious life. The 14thcentury saw the development of crisis in the Church, the beginning of scientific andpositive thought, and a great increase in mysticism. 4